THE FIFTH BOOK,
73. THE PERSECUTIONS FORETOLD IN THE SCRIPTURESHUS having discoursed in these former books the order and course of years, from the first tying up of Satan unto the year of our Lord 1360, I have a little overpassed the stint of time in the Scripture appointed, for the loosing out of him again. For so it is written by St. John, Apoc. xx., that after a thousand years, Satan, the old dragon, shall be let loose again for a season, &c.
For the better explanation of the which mystery, let us first consider the context of the Scripture; afterward let us examine, by history and course of times, the meaning of the same. And first, to recite the words of the Apocalypse, the text of the prophecy is this, chap. xx.
"And I saw an angel descending from heaven, having a key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he took the dragon, the old serpent, which is the devil, and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and put him in the bottomless dungeon and shut him up, and signed him with his seal, that he should no more seduce the Gentiles, till a thousand years were expired. And after that he must be loosed again for a little space of time. And I saw seats, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them; and the souls I saw of them which were beheaded for the testimony of Jesus," &c.
By these words of the Revelation, here recited, three special times are to be noted.
First, the being abroad of Satan to deceive the world.
Secondly, the binding up of him.
Thirdly, the loosing out of him again, after a thousand years consummate, for a time.
Concerning the interpretation of which times, I see the common opinion of many to be deceived by ignorance of histories, and state of things done in the church; they supposing that the chaining up of Satan for a thousand years, spoken of in the Revelation, was meant from the birth of Christ our Lord. Wherein I grant that spiritually the strength and dominion of Satan, in accusing and condemning us for sin, was cast down at the passion and by the passion of Christ our Saviour, and locked up not only for a thousand years, but for ever. Albeit, as touching the malicious hatred and fury of that serpent against the outward bodies of Christ's poor saints, which is the heel of Christ, to afflict and torment the church outwardly; that I judge to be meant in the Revelation of St. John, not to be restrained till the ceasing of those terrible persecutions of the primitive church; at what time it pleased God to pity the sorrowful affliction of his poor flock, being so long under persecution, the space of three hundred years, and so to assuage their griefs and torments; which is meant by binding up of Satan, worker of all those mischiefs; understanding thereby that forasmuch as the devil, the prince of this world, had now by the death of Christ the Son of God, lost all his power and interest against the soul of man, he should turn his furious rage and malice, which he had to Christ, against the people of Christ, which is meant by the heel of the seed, Gen. iii., in tormenting their outward bodies; which yet should not be for ever, but for a determinate time, whenas it should please the Lord to bridle the malice and snaffle the power of the old serpent, and give rest unto his church for the term of a thousand years; which time being expired, the said serpent should be suffered loose again for a certain or a small time, Apoc. xx.
And thus to expound this prophetical place of Scripture, I am led by three reasons.
The first is, for that the binding up of Satan, and closing him in the bottomless pit by the angel, importeth as much that he was at liberty, raging and doing mischief, before. And, certes, those so terrible and so horrible persecutions of the primitive time universally through the whole world, during the space of three hundred years of the church, do declare no less. Wherein it is to be thought and supposed, that Satan all that time was not fastened and closed up.
The second reason moving me to think that the closing up of Satan was after the ten persecutions of the primitive church, is taken out of the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse; where we read, that after the woman, meaning the church, had travailed forth her man-child, the old dragon, the devil, the same time being cast down from heaven, drawing the third part of the stars with him, stood before the woman with great anger, and persecuted her, that is, the church of God, with a whole flood of water, (that is, with abundance of all kinds of torments,) and from thence went moreover to fight against the residue of her seed, and stood upon the sands of the sea, whereby it appeareth that he was not as yet locked up.
The third reason I collect out of the Apocalypse, thirteenth chapter, where it is written of the beast, signifying the imperial monarchy of Rome, that he had power to make war forty and two months. By the which months is meant, no doubt, the time that the dragon and the persecuting emperors should have in afflicting the saints of the primitive church. The computation of which forty-two months, counting every month for a sabbath of years, that is, for seven years, after the order of Scripture, riseth to the sum, counting from the passion of the Lord Christ, of three hundred years, lacking six; at what time Maxentius, the last persecutor in Rome, fighting against Constantine, was drowned with his soldiers, like as Pharaoh, persecuting the children of Israel, was drowned in the Red Sea. Unto the which forty-two months, or sabbaths of years, if ye add the other six years wherein Licinius persecuted in the east, ye shall find just three hundred years, as is specified before in the first book of this volume.
After the which forty and two months, being expired, manifest it is that the fury of Satan, that is, his violent malice and power over the saints of Christ, was diminished and restrained universally through the whole world.
Thus then, the matter standing evident that Satan, after three hundred years, counting from the passion of Christ, began to be chained up, at what time the persecution of the primitive church began to cease; now let us see how long this binding up of Satan should continue, which was promised in the book of the Revelation to be a thousand years; which thousand years, if ye add to the forty-two months of years, that is, to two hundred and ninety-four years, they make one thousand two hundred and ninety four years after the passion of the Lord. To these, moreover, add the thirty years of the age of Christ, and it cometh to the year of our Lord 1324, which was the year of the letting out of Satan, according to the prophecy of the Apocalypse.
The first persecution of the primitive church, beginning at the thirtieth year of Christ, was prophesied to continue forty-two months; that is, till A. D. 294.
The ceasing of the last persecution of the primitive church by the death of Licinius, the last persecutor, began in the year 324 from the nativity of Christ, which was from the thirtieth year of his age, 294.
The binding up of Satan after peace given to the church, counting from the thirty years of Christ, began A. D. 294, and lasted a thousand years, that is, counting from the thirtieth year of Christ, to the year 1294.
About which year Pope Boniface the Eighth was pope, and made the sixth book of the Decretals, confirmed the orders of friars, and privileged them with great freedoms, as appeareth by his constitution, Super Cathedram, A. D. 1294.
Unto the which count of years doth not much disagree that which I found in a certain old chronicle prophesied and written in the latter end of a book; which book was written, as it seemeth, by a monk of Dover, and remaineth yet in the custody of William Cary, a citizen of London; alleging the prophecy of one Hayncard, a Grey Friar, grounded upon the authority of Joachim the abbot, prophesying that antichrist should be born the year from the nativity of Christ 1260; which is, counting after the Lord's passion, the very same year and time when the orders of friars both Dominics and Franciscans began first to be set up by Pope Honorius the Third, and by Pope Gregorius the Ninth, which was the year of our Lord, counting after his passion, 1226; and counting after the nativity of the Lord, was the year 1260.
These things thus premised for the loosing out of Satan, according to the prophecy of the Apocalypse, now let us enter (Christ willing) to the declaration of these latter times which followed after the letting out of Satan into the world; describing the wondrous perturbations and cruel tyranny stirred up by him against Christ's church; also the valiant resistance of the church of Christ against him and antichrist, as in these our books here under following may appear.
The argument of which books consisteth in two parts: first, to treat of the raging fury of Satan now loosed, and of antichrist, against the saints of Christ fighting and travailing for the maintenance of the truth, and reformation of the church. Secondly, to declare the decay and ruin of the said antichrist, through the power of the word of God, being at length, either in a great part of the world overthrown, or, at least, universally in the whole world detected.
Thus then to begin with the year of our Lord 1360, wherein I have a little, as is aforesaid, transgressed the stint of the first loosing out of Satan: we are come now to the time wherein the Lord, after long darkness, beginneth some reformation of his church, by the diligent industry of sundry his faithful and learned servants, of whom divers already we have foretouched in the former book before, as namely, Guliel. de Sancto Amore, Marsilius Patavinus, Ockam, Robertus Gallus, Robertus Grosthead, Petrus de Cugneriis, Johannes Rupescissanus, Conradus Hager, Johannes de Poliaco, Cesenas, with other more, which withstood the corrupt errors and intolerable enormities of the bishop of Rome, beside them which about these times were put to death by the said bishop of Rome, as Castillo and Franciscus de Arcatara in the book before recorded; also the two Franciscans, martyrs, which were burned at Avignon, mentioned above.
Now to these, the Lord willing, we will add such other holy martyrs and confessors, who following after in the course of years with like zeal and strength of God's word, and also with like danger of their lives, gave the like resistance against the enemy of Christ's religion, and suffered at his hands the like persecutions. First, beginning with that godly man, whosoever he was, the author of the book, his name I have not, entitled The Prayer and Complaint of the Ploughman; written, as it appeareth, about this present time.
Which book, as it was faithfully set forth by William Tindal, so I have as truly distributed the same abroad to the reader's hands; neither changing any thing of the matter, neither altering many words of the phrase thereof. Although the oldness and age of his speech and terms be almost grown now out of use, yet I thought it so best, both for the utility of the book to reserve it from oblivion, as also in his own language to let it go abroad, for the more credit and testimony of the true antiquity of the same. The matter of this complaining prayer of the ploughman thus proceedeth.